Changer de vitesse

Breaking news here in France this week is the government’s decision to reduce the speed limit on secondary roads from 90 to 80 km/h. That’s all roads without a central divider mostly outside of towns across the country. Now will come the tedious business of changing thousands of road signs from 90 to 80.

Macron’s government has had the good sense to say they’ll pick up the tab for the sign change, sparing us the otherwise massive public outcry that would follow if the local taxpayers had to pay for it.

There’s still a lot of crying going on. If the French have one value, it is the right to go fast. When they can. Which is not often. But once they’re outside of urban areas, and unstuck from the frequent traffic jams, they treasure their right to gun it and make up for lost time.

This approach applies to much of life here. That characteristic gear changing, from foot-draggingly slow to all-systems-go fast, is one of the things I had the hardest time adapting to when we moved to France. It applies to so many areas of life that you simply have to get used to it. There are times when we do nothing but wait, and there are times when we move ahead at the speed of light. C’est ainsi.

Changer de vitesse – to change gears – is a skill I had to learn on many levels. From driving a car with a standard transmission to switching languages from my mother English tongue to the French way of formulating thoughts. To accepting that when we go, we go. When we stop, we stop.

I’ve gotten better at switching gears but it’s still not my forté (which, by the way, the French don’t say despite that little accent – the expression is rather: ‘ce n’est pas mon point fort’).

We are still gearing up from a very slow period following a fabulous family vacation in Curaçao. It was a wonderful way to spend Christmas, to ring out the old and ring in the new. But like probably every other island in the Caribbean, things move slowly. It took me no time at all to gear down to the slower pace of island life. Watching the waves roll in and out, the birds singing, the iguanas in the leaves, happily waiting for that piña colada.

But coming back is another story. We had a good rest and filled up on sunshine, so the body is more or less willing. My mind, however, is still five hours behind. It didn’t help that our return was a bit delayed.

Our flight circled for too long over Geneva, where the winds were very high and we were bumping around through the clouds for ages. When we finally began our descent, everyone on board was quietly relieved. Then, just as we saw the familiar approach across the lake and mountains, up we went again through the clouds. A few white-knuckled moments later, the pilot announced that he had aborted the landing due to wind shear. We were rerouted to Lyon, and finally made it home by bus some four hours later. Happy to be home safe.

When it comes to speed, I’m all for going a little slower. Yes, it’s annoying when things take longer than they should. And okay, they’ll probably enrich the state coffers with a few more speeding tickets. But hey, there’s no denying that it will save lives. And gas. And we’ll get there, sooner or later.

How has your new year begun? Are you in high speed or gearing up after the holidays?


  1. weggieboy · January 11, 2018

    Eighty kph…ugh! That’s barely moving! I suspect the police will have many long daysx chasing down people not obeying the law. I hope they saved those 90 kph signs.

    • MELewis · January 12, 2018

      Lol. The whole problem is the lack of police doing much chasing. They just sit by roundabouts and pull people over who are seen to be on their phones. So that leaves fixed radars, and the French slow down for them. Not very effective, I’m afraid!

      • weggieboy · January 12, 2018

        I can’t imagine driving in a roundabout while using a phone! Whew! I suppose any slow down is an improvement, but I agree with you: a presence on the road and road stops for speeding are a better use of police.

  2. Osyth · January 11, 2018

    I’m all for the reduction in speed limit mostly because I have lived in the depths of no-where, with not enough speed cameras and certainly far too vast an area for the Gendarmerie to have a cats chance of picking up the speeders. That said, the signage won’t change it one bit. The fact that the default for French drivers is to career up behind you, sit so close that they might as well be sharing the backseat of your car and take appalling risks in their quest to get past you won’t change with a different number on the pole. Witness the number of floral tributes to those that got it wrong that pepper the N and D roads. I understand they are also clamping down on using mobile phones and drink-driving. It’s all good theory. Enforcing it will be very hard in many areas. I’m SO sorry you had scary aborted landings. Not fun and what a squibber at the end of a wonderful holiday to have to bus it from Lyon. But in one piece and relaxed is goooooood! X

    • MELewis · January 12, 2018

      Right you are. Those makeshift memorials say it all! The new limit will only change the behaviour of the minority of law-abiding drivers. Still, it’s a start. I wish they would somehow come up with a campaign to convince people that they cannot always be 100% perfect when they drive. Mistakes happen to even the best drivers and the fact is that speed kills. As for the landing, all’s well that ends well as far as I’m concerned.Oddly, just spoke to my neighbour who had an identical experience last year with a flight from Amsterdam. Must be something about those Dutch pilots! xo

      • Osyth · January 12, 2018

        It’s all in attitude, you are so right. Something seems to happen to a large number of drivers when they close that car door and seem to imagine they are in a halo of safety. The risks are eye-watering and what really really bugs me is that so many of the deaths are not those taking the chances but innocents caught up in the carnage they cause. My father always said that the single most important skill for any driver is anticipation but even then it’s hard to anticipate a bonkers bozo overtaking on a hairpin bend right into your path with no-where to go because it’s a mountain road …..

  3. midihideaways · January 11, 2018

    Sounds like a bumpy ride after a blissful holiday – nothing like coming back down to earth with a bump!! Glad the pilot did bring you down safely in the end, even if it must have been tedious to get bussed from Lyon. As for the speed reduction, I’m with Osyth, I don’t believe that it’ll make much of a difference to road deaths – the dangerous driving by men and women will continue, and in the countryside it’ll be hard to enforce much of it. Of course the privatised speed camera operators will have a great time, and it may yet raise a lot of money 🙂

    • MELewis · January 12, 2018

      If speed controls on every street would change the behaviours, I’d be all for it. That’s how it is in Switzerland, and while boring to have to drive the limit, everyone does as otherwise you can be sure to get a ticket in the post! Thanks for well wishes – the bumpy end was scary but I had almost expected to be delayed at some point in our journey in or out. Murphy’s has become the law of modern travel!

      • midihideaways · January 15, 2018

        If only everyone stuck to the rules where driving is concerned!! In other areas, sticking to the rules might lead to boredom?? 🙂

  4. francetaste · January 11, 2018

    I agree with the others–the number isn’t going to change anything. People who drive at 140 will do it whether the sign says 90 or 80.
    There’s also the issue of the gendarmes not being allowed to hide their radar traps. So everybody flashes their lights to let others know to slow down, just for the small stretch where there’s a control. Same for the alcohol controls–people who have been drinking see other drivers flash their lights and turn around beforehand, to take a different route. What’s clever is when the gendarmes do two controls not too far apart. People see flashing lights and think it’s for the cops they passed, not knowing there are more cops ahead.
    Glad you got home safely!!!

    • MELewis · January 12, 2018

      Home safe is always my bottom line — the rest is inconvenience that I’ll happily suffer as part and parcel of getting there. As for the hiding of radars, I find that rule ridiculous. If you’re over the limit, speed or alcohol-wise, any means of controlling you should be fair game. Instead the French talk of putting systems in all cars to prevent engines starting without a breath test? Where are the cops when people come home from a well-lubricated apéro in the evening? As it happens, we have a local ‘garde champêtre’ who likes to hide in the hedges with a handheld radar and surprise people on their way to work. But outside of working hours, no cops to be seen. Quelle surprise!

  5. coteetcampagne · January 11, 2018

    I also am glad that your planeload arrived intact, if not at the expected destination!

    I agree, many will still drive like nutters.
    My current beef is with drivers using their phones.The obsession with smartphones was v slow to catch on down here in the sticks, but it’s well and truly caught hold now; I passed a guy of maybe ninety on way to Esperaza who appeared to be holding his phone with one hand and texting with the other..

    • MELewis · January 12, 2018

      It is scary behaviour and I see it everywhere. Once even in a car that my boss was driving as I sat, horrified, while she texted on her lap. The stupid thing, though, is that they’ll never catch the really dumb ones who are dangers to all, yet they will pull me over for having a dashboard mount on my mobile which I use as a sat-nav. This hasn’t happened yet but I understand such use of phones is now illegal. So in order to catch a few fish, they use a giant net that makes even law-abiding citizens cynical about the laws.

      • coteetcampagne · January 12, 2018

        Isn’t it alway the way of law drafters to cast a giant net though?

  6. Colin Bisset · January 11, 2018

    I know I’m always there for a relaxing holiday (although not quite in your pina colada league) but I do enjoy driving on French roads. I find that most people behave themselves quite well, especially when compared to the macho driving of Sydneysiders who just HAVE to get in front of you. On the autoroute, French drivers indicate, overtake and return to their lane most of the time – amazing! But I agree with you re phones (banned here when driving) but most new cars now have touchscreens to control everything from radio volume to temperature, which means you are forced to look down as you drive.

    • MELewis · January 12, 2018

      I’m afraid the pina colada league was a one off! 😉 I agree that French motorway driving is generally of a good standard, especially as compared to the smaller country roads, and most drivers do respect the rules of good behaviour. On the contrary, we are often appalled to find this is not the case in other countries, where slow-moving vehicles sit blithely in the left lane, people pass on the right…anything goes! I’m amazed you enjoy the driving in France though. The left-right thing is no problem for you then? We are thinking we’ll never be able to do a road trip one day down under for fear of getting confused on a roundabout. But then, I’m not a good driver and my husband has little patience for long drives, so it looks like we’ll be taking buses!

      • Colin Bisset · January 13, 2018

        Oddly enough, it feels completely natural, even driving through cities, although yes, an empty roundabout can make me think hard for a second!

  7. Katherine Wikoff · January 12, 2018

    . . . “which the French don’t say despite the little accent”: Thanks for the insider’s secret😄

    Milwaukee is similarly full of street/place names with idiosyncratic pronunciations. You can always tell longtime Milwaukeeans from the visitors and recent transplants.

    • MELewis · January 13, 2018

      And of course all of that is incomprehensible to non-native speakers, especially names that look like they should be pronounced according to the rules of their language. How many times have I tried to explain to French friends how we say Detroit? 🙂

      • Katherine Wikoff · January 13, 2018

        Oh my, I can just imagine how Detroit might sound!

  8. Lisa @ cheergerm · January 13, 2018

    That slow paced Caribbean lifestyle sounds rather enticing. Before you know it the whole of France will be on ‘island time.’ ?!

    • MELewis · January 14, 2018

      It is indeed seductive, Lisa. 🙂 But for some reason, back in France things just slow down, there’s not much of that relaxed island mood!

  9. roughwighting · January 15, 2018

    Wait! I want to answer, but I’m still holding my breath from your bumpy (almost) descent to Geneva, aborted, and finalized in Lyon. Mama Mia! Except for flying on airplanes, I’d prefer everything and everybody to SLOW DOWN ferheaven’s sake. People get behind their cars (here in the USA and it seems in France) and forget who they are (a human being) and act like robots who have been decreed to SPEED and forget that anyone else is on the road.
    Here in New England, in January, we are made to slow down a bit with snow storms, icy roads, and subzero temps that make some cars just stop altogether. Me? I stay inside wrapped up in a blanket and read and write and wait for spring. 🙂 Happy 2018.

    • MELewis · January 17, 2018

      Thanks! I was also on the edge of my seat for several moments there, especially being by nature a nervous flyer. Fortunately I was next to the unflappable Frenchman, who held my hand and kept me from panicking too much. We writer types are blessed and cursed with an overactive imagination, so it’s easy to always imagine the worst coming around that blind curve. Thanks for your comments, and hope that January is not being too cruel (though I fear it is a rude one in your parts…)

      • roughwighting · January 17, 2018

        Winter is ruder than an arrogant teenage boy right now. Urgh.
        But laughing at your description of writers’ imagination when we do something uncomfortable (like flying). So true! I would be embarrassed to share some of the stories that I make up in my head when the plane bounces, or a peculiar looking person goes in the plane bathroom and spends a looooong time there. Yikes. But how do we shut down our imaginations? Impossible! 🙂

  10. Heide · January 16, 2018

    Wonderful observations about the speed at which life moves, and difficult it can be to changer de vitesse — especially when you’re traveling between cultures. It’s one of the things that fascinates me about France, actually: There’s an interesting contrast between the desire to drive fast … and the tendency for everything else (lines, meals, friendships) to move slowly and deliberately. I’ll be eager to hear more about Curaçao if you care to share. And although the return home sounds a bit harrowing, I’m glad it all ended well.

    • MELewis · January 17, 2018

      You are right about that very French contradiction in terms – and by the sounds of it, you’ve had plenty of time to observe it up close! Nice to have you along for the ride, many thanks for the follow! I’ll share more about Curaçao soon – definitely a destination I’d recommend. 🙂

  11. Suzanne et Pierre · January 17, 2018

    I have missed so many of your stories lately…but I intend to catch-up soon. Speed and how life is going to fast is certainly a theme of the ages. It is good to slow down and take the time to see what is around us…(Suzanne)

    • MELewis · January 17, 2018

      Suzanne, so lovely to see you back! Hope that you’ve been taking the time to appreciate life at a slower pace. Taking the time to enjoy life through the lens of your camera is also a good approach. 🙂

      • Suzanne et Pierre · January 17, 2018

        Hi Mel. Yes, we are taking the time to appreciate life. Pierre retired at the end of July 2017 so we have been busy with lots of stuff but for ourselves. We have great travel plans for 2018 so you may see us blogging sporadically to document our trips (though I don’t think we will restart blogging on a regular basis). We have posted the first of a series on a trip to Mexico City done last November.

      • MELewis · January 17, 2018

        Wonderful! Hope you are both enjoying the newfound freedom and look forward to catching up with your travels on the blog or elsewhere.

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